This article was written by TORTUGA: a student led think-tank of Economics students from Bocconi and LSE University. Its current members are Andrea Cerrato, Francesco Chiocchio, Marco Felici, Francesco Filippucci, Giulia Gitti, Alessandro Greco,Cecilia Mariotti, Alberto Mola, Marco Palladino, Benedetta Pavesi, Isabella Rossi, Matteo Sartori, Giulia Travaglini, Francesca Viotti, Alessandro Zhou e Alessandro Zona. Here are the links to their Facebook page and their website“.

The Bads of the Italian Migrant Reception System

Overcrowded, lengthy assessment of asylum applications, poor services and infrastructure, corruption, acts of violence and suicides are all visible features of the Italian migrant reception system.

The worrying aspect concerns not only the implementation of the system, but also the way it has been designed. The rules on the establishment and functioning of the reception centres in Italy derive from a mix of Italian laws and European directives mainly made upon the occurrence of the refugee crisis. When facing the peaks of the emergency phase, policy makers failed to consider a long-term horizon for migration policies, focusing only on short-term remedies, thus creating an increasingly complicated system. It is by no surprise that the Italian reception system has been defined as an “overly-layered onion”.

The system becomes even more complex and chaotic if one considers the European Union migration system as a whole; just to give some examples, it is sufficient to think of the infamous Dublin Agreements, the European Commission’s Decision on relocation, and their scarce results, and the more recent highly debated agreement with Turkey. For the purpose of this article, we will avoid discussing any of such topics and we will devote our attention to the Italian system only. However, one important resolution of the Dublin Regulation is worth a mention for the relevance of its implications, that is the one that forces migrants to remain in the first European country where they have been registered or have applied for asylum.

Photo credit: Flickr/Sara Prestianni / Noborder network/ Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa in August 2007/CC BY 2.0

Photo credit: Flickr/Sara Prestianni / Noborder network/
Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa in August 2007/CC BY 2.0

Asylum Seekers in Italy

Focusing on the Italian case with this bigger picture in mind, we can deduct that the mismatch between incoming migrants and asylum applications evidenced by the data may be due to the aversion of immigrants to remain in Italy. In fact, when confronted with a reception system that is not able to provide adequate services to satisfy physiological needs, such as comfortable shelter and nutritious diet and that prevents them from feeling secure and self-fulfilled, it comes with little surprise that migrants prefer to continue their dangerous journey to other European destinations. However, it goes without saying that the reception system is only one aspect to blame: high unemployment, low economic growth and language barriers are all very important factors for migrants and refugees to consider when deciding where to settle and it is true that Italy does not excel in any of them.

The data from the National Commission for the Right of Asylum (Commissione Nazionale per il Diritto d’Asilo) provide some evidence that migrants and refugees have indeed some kind of aversion when it comes to apply for asylum in Italy. As a matter of fact, the number of migrants reaching the Italian shores was 170.100 in 2014, of which only 38% (65,000) actually applied for asylum. In 2015, 153,834 migrants arrived in Italy, of which only 79,900 (52%) filed a request for international protection.

Photo credit: Wikimedia/Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) - Own work, using data and information from Eurostat dataset & FRONTEX Migratory Routes Map / CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: Wikimedia/Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) – Own work, using data and information from Eurostat dataset & FRONTEX Migratory Routes Map /
CC BY-SA 2.0

Moreover, the Italian reception system has been condemned more than once by various agencies for disrespecting human rights in the centres. To give a significant examples, in November 2015 the ECtHR ruled against the reunification of an asylum seeking family due to the inadequacy of the Italian reception arrangements, particularly for children.

How does the Italian reception system work?

After all these considerations, it is imperative to understand how this complex system actually works if one wants to identify where the major flaws arise.

Migrants entering Italy in an illegal manner are hosted in the first-line reception centres, where they are identified and withhold until a decision regarding the expulsion from the country or the granting of international protection is taken. The Italian law has set out three different types of first-line reception centres having different purposes: First Aid and Reception Centers (Centri di Primo Soccorso e Accoglienza, CPSA), Reception Centres (Centri di Accoglienza, CdA) and Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers (Centri di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo, CARA).

CPSAs provide migrants with first aid and with asylum application documents. With an average hosting time of 24-48 hours, these centres are conceived as facilities for receiving migrants only for the time needed to identify them and transfer them to the other centres. After an evaluation, migrants are transferred, directly or indirectly, to either a CARA or a CDA.

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov/ A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany/ CC BY 4.0

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov/ A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany/ CC BY 4.0

Here the migrant’s claim is investigated and he is granted the right of filing an asylum request. According to data from the Italian Ministry of Interior, in June 2015 CARAs, CDAs and CPSAs hosted around 11,300 migrants. The standards and the management of such centres are criticisable on different levels. Indeed, the time range established by the law is often ignored and immigrants are withheld for several months: based on information provided by lawyers assisting asylum seekers in their applications, the average processing time of an application is generally 6 to 18 months or more, much above the 33 days limit prescribed by the law.

Furthermore, the quality of the services is often poor, legal and social assistance is inadequate or absent, facilities tend to be isolated from the community, hindering any possible integration, and access to appropriate information tends to be difficult. Finally, the issue of overcrowding and limitation of space available, only 12.000 places throughout Italy, required the creation of another type of centre, further complicating the overall system: the Emergency Reception Centers (Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria, CAS). These facilities are managed by public tender procedures through which the Ministry of Internal Affairs delegates the responsibility and management of the centres to third parties such as cooperatives, associations and private or public local entities. The state of emergency in which tender offers are called often leaves space to corruption, which in many cases leads to harmful results, such as contracts with ad-hoc created associations, frequently lacking the skills and capabilities to build and run the centres efficiently if not humanely.

The Goods of the Italian system

Despite these relevant criticisms, the Italian situation has some bright sides as well. The second-line reception, also called System for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR), is a virtuous example. The SPRAR, established in 2002, is a publicly funded network of local authorities and NGOs that accommodate asylum seekers that have already formalised their applications. Here, the refugees are provided with assistance and services that favour integration.

In 2012, following the North Africa emergency and the intensification of migrant flows, the Italian government envisioned an enlargement of the SPRAR centers with the purpose of enhancing their role and supporting the overcrowded CARAs. Given the positive results of integrating the SPRAR into the first-line reception system, the government has continued to fund them and it has increased the resources devoted to them, allowing the system to reach the number of 430 centres, for a total of 21,449 available spots in 2015.

The SPRAR system provides a series of advantages. Its core characterization stands in the aim of not being a model of mere hospitality, but rather of true inclusion and empowerment of the individuals in the local community. Indeed, opening a SPRAR centre is not a top-down decision imposed by the government, but rather a voluntary commitment of the local administration, which is actively involved in its management. Moreover, specialists and professionals provide a variety of services to the guests of the centre: from linguistic support to health care, from psychological help to legal assistance.

Throughout its existence, the SPRAR system has developed a unique expertise in terms of reception, accommodation and integration of migrants, as well as in smoothing the barriers to the job market and to education, with great improvement to social cohesion at a community level.

When comparing the SPRAR system with the traditional first line reception system, the difference in perspectives between the two is immediately evident: in the first case, efforts are successfully oriented towards the integration of hosts in the local communities, encouraging active participation by competent local administrators and, most importantly, adopting a long-term horizon. The second system, on the other hand, besides being over-complicated, is heavily flawed by a short-term vision with no evidence of a durable and long lasting plan on integration.

Photo credits: Flickr/ The European Commission - Berlaymont Building/ CC BY 2.0

Photo credits: Flickr/
The European Commission – Berlaymont Building/ CC BY 2.0

Given this scenario, it is essential that policy makers change their attitude when designing immigration policies by starting to consider migration flows as a steady phenomenon and not as occasional emergency situations. This shift of goals represents the necessary step for a successful transition from a system of mere reception and primary assistance to one that could lead to true integration and an increasing social cohesion.

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